Polworth may not be handed a first cap as Ricky Sbragia’s side face France in Angiers tomorrow night in a game they must win to retain slender hopes of European Championship qualification. However, he deserves to be keeping company with the most promising young Scottish players after a season wherein he has been a polished performer in the Premiership.
The 21-year-old, who represented Scotland at under-16 and under-17 levels, can lay claim to being the youngest debutant for Inverness after he made his first senior appearance as a 16-year-old. In the five years since he has witnessed the Highland football landscape change beyond all recognition.
The player netted in the 3-0 win for John Hughes’ side over derby rivals Ross County on Sunday. Not only did that goal dampen the post-match victory parade for the Dingwall side following their arrival on the major trophy-winners scene with the previous week’s League Cup success. It reminded us what last year’s Scottish Cup victors are capable of after a struggle of a season which brought the end of the trophy defence against Hibernian last Wednesday.
That Scotland’s two cups could reside in a region that previously had never been temporary home to either has allowed Polworth to take his place with Scotland without feeling inferior.
“Maybe there is a bit of a balance shift. County have done brilliantly this season to win a cup and are well up the league table,” he said. “Players no longer feel the Highlands is such a bad place to go and play their football. A lot of boys have come up and played their football here and earned really good moves back down south. It’s much more attractive now given that both teams are going.”
Yet, where the Highland clubs have appeared lax is in the matter of developing young talent. Polworth admits he is one of the few young players to have come through the ranks in the area that is regularly receiving game time.
“It’s difficult when you are a youngster as we haven’t got many players to choose from,” he said. “There are far more players in the west of Scotland and there is much more choice.
“I haven’t really seen much of the Ross County kids but we have one or two, and we will be looking to bring through more. Sometimes all it takes is the chance to play and then they can show they are good enough. I speak to a lot of the boys at the under-20s as well as some of the coaches and there are a few which are ready to come through and all they need is the chance and a little glimmer of hope.”
Polworth doesn’t cite his father’s influence as assisting his development. In fact he joshes that his old man Iain, who now manages Highland club Clachnacuddin, was a football figure he studiously avoided. His father was signed by Alex Ferguson for Aberdeen in 1985. “That’s his only claim to fame,” the 21-year-old said, his dad leaving shortly afterwards without playing a game, eventually playing for the old pre-merger Caledonian Thistle in Inverness.
“[Football in the city] has come a long way. The facilities are probably still the same. The level they’ve got to from where they were is a big achievement. I’m sure he tries to tell me stories about Fergie but I just walk out. I’m not really interested in what he has to say. He doesn’t coach me anymore and I wouldn’t take any advice of him anyway He did a little bit of coaching when I was younger, but I had Ryan Christie’s dad [Charlie] as a coach when I was younger.”
Polworth’s current coach is also a man to avoid. The player was left with jaw-ache after being punched by Hughes as the Inverness manager celebrated with the subbed midfielder following their team’s equaliser in their Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road earlier this month.
“I’m not sure why he punched me in the head. I think he was looking for his mate in the crowd and I happened to be in the way and got one right in the head,” Polworth said. “We had a laugh about it, but I didn’t get much sympathy.”